Proud Dad Moment: The Day Ezra Frech Became a Team USA Paralympic Athlete
Clayton Frech is not your average dad. He’s the true definition of “super dad.” Father to three boys and co-founder of the Angel City Games presented by The Hartford, Clayton and his family’s life mission is to make the world a better, more inclusive place. And for him and his wife, Bahar Soomekh, it’s a mission that’s not only honorable, it’s personal.
When Clayton and Bahar’s oldest son, Ezra, was born with limb differences, it took the new parents by complete surprise. They had no idea until the day Ezra was born (May 11, 2005) that he would be missing four fingers on his left hand along with his left knee and left shin bone (causing his leg to curve into his waist). While the worries about his future immediately began to surface, Clayton and Bahar also quickly realized that Ezra’s story had a higher purpose. And that purpose was to help others.
“We named him Ezra, which means the helper, the teacher,” said Clayton. “And he has always demonstrated some powerful personal qualities. Some of these were on display when he was really young, making me believe in nature, maybe more than nurture.”
Watch Ezra’s Story
Big Dreams, Big Love
Ezra was born an athlete, and Clayton and Bahar knew it from the moment he started to crawl. At just 6 months old, he attended his first Challenged Athletes Foundation Triathlon, where he met Kevin Carroll, MS, CP, FAAOP/D, Hanger Clinic’s VP of Lower Extremity Prosthetics, who formed a close bond with the family and encouraged them that Ezra would be able to do anything he set his mind to.
Clayton and Bahar knew they wanted to give their active son every opportunity to walk, run, and play sports, so they decided to get him into a prosthesis as soon as he started pulling himself up to stand at 11 months old. A year and a half later, Ezra underwent amputation surgery to remove the curved part of his leg, and they also transplanted the big toe from his left foot onto his left hand. This surgery was monumental because it not only provided him a better-fitting prosthetic leg, it also added a second finger to his left hand which allowed him to form a grip and function much more easily.
At four years old, Ezra received his first prosthetic knee and running leg from Hanger Clinic in Encino, California. Having a prosthesis with a knee allowed him to have a more normalized gait so he could run and play sports with the able-bodied kids his age.
According to Clayton, “Ezra has always been determined. He was designing his own basketball workouts when he was a toddler, like 2-3 years old.”
Ezra’s early years were not always easy for Clayton and Bahar. It was hard seeing their little boy undergo such difficult surgeries, and it was even harder navigating the hundreds of hours of physical and occupational therapy that followed. Bahar ended up stepping away from her career as a prominent actress to raise Ezra and his brothers, and as hard as it was, the parents knew they were making the best decisions for Ezra and their family.
Finding His Calling
In the world of sports, Ezra’s first love was basketball. He learned the game young – really young. He started passing the ball back and forth while sitting up at 6 months old and learned to count by 2s before he could count by 1s by watching Lakers games. At 4 years old, he started playing in basketball leagues and eventually started playing baseball, soccer, and flag football as well.
In 2013, the sports-loving Frech family decided to attend their first Paralympic-qualifying competition in Oklahoma, called the Endeavor Games. Eight-year-old Ezra competed in several track and field events and ended up setting records on events he learned just one day earlier. The Frechs wanted to find more opportunities for Ezra to compete but wished they didn’t have to travel so far to do it.
City of Angels
Clayton’s mind started spinning and he knew he had found his calling. He gave up his corporate career and embarked on a journey alongside his family to fill in some of the gaps in adaptive and Paralympic sports, particularly in Southern California where they live. And, two years later in 2015, he formally launched Angel City Sports with the inaugural Angel City Games.
Angel City Sports, named after and headquartered in the Frechs’ native Los Angeles, provides year-round free adaptive sports opportunities for kids, adults, and veterans with physical disabilities or visual impairments. The organization focuses on three main areas: 1) training and development through sports clinics and events; 2) access to equipment; and 3) access to competitions through the Angel City Games presented by The Hartford. With over 5 years under its belt, Angel City Sports has grown to become one of the premier adaptive sports organizations in the United States.
Team Ezra: The Road to Team USA
At the same time his family was at work launching their incredible organization (which he was heavily involved in as well), Ezra shifted his athletic focus to track and field. He began competing regularly at the highest level, setting national records along the way. His talent didn’t go unnoticed either. He was named a finalist for the 2014 SportsKid of the Year by Sports Illustrated and appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show that same year.
In 2019, Ezra officially made the US Paralympic Track and Field National Team, competing in the long jump, high, jump, and 100m sprint at events around the world. He competed in the 2019 World Para Athletics Junior Championships where he won gold in the high jump and bronze in the long jump and 100m sprint in the U17 category, and then went on to compete against adults in the 2019 Parapan American Games in Peru where he won two silver medals, which helped earn Ezra a spot as the youngest athlete at the 2019 World Championships.
Watch the Moment Ezra Qualified for Team USA
Making the US Paralympic Track and Field National Team is no easy feat. Experience the moment when Ezra realized he qualified back in 2019. Grab the tissues!
Ezra Beats All Odds, Qualifies for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics
Throughout the global pandemic’s challenges starting in 2020, including a halt to athletic events, Ezra stayed dedicated to his training. He also worked closely with his Hanger Clinic prosthetist Thomas Page, CPO in Encino (the same clinic location where he received his first running blade) to be fit with a new running blade, knee, and socket that are aligned to allow him to compete optimally in three very different events. Thomas has gone to the track several times with Ezra to watch him practice and apply his observations to ensure his prosthetic leg is as light and durable as possible.
In June 2021, Ezra’s hard work and dedication to his craft finally paid off. As one of the youngest competitors at the US Paralympic Track and Field Team Trials in Minneapolis, he reached the A standard in the high jump and officially punched his ticket for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, now taking place in August 2021 due to the pandemic.
The pride Clayton and Bahar have for their son is indescribable. To see their child compete at the highest level and achieve his dreams at such a young age is more than any parent could hope for. They want Ezra’s story to be an example for others who have physical challenges, showing them that no matter their situation, it is possible to live healthy, active lives.
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